2001 Monks and Nuns from Münster go to Berlin
2003 Jean Lecuit S.J.: "Take Off Your Shoes..."
2003 Sr. Petra Bigge : On the Streets of Nürnberg
2003 Christiane Wiesner: Retreat on the Street
2004 Sr. Klara Maria Breuer: Berlin Pulled Off My Shoes
2004 Christoph Albrecht SJ: Street Retreat in Fribourg
2004 Urban Heck: Marvelous Retreat - Good-bye Daniel!
2004 Ingrid Hartmann: God met me in Nuremberg
2005 Joseph Mumbere: Street Retreat in Nürnberg
2005 Brigitte Reeb: Retreat on the Street - Madness!!!!!!
2006 Margit: At Long Last Living
2006 Marita: Street Retreat in July 2006 in Berlin
2011 Regina Bernhardt: Street Retreat
... Further Reports in the Book "Hospitality"
Retreat on the Street
Monks and Nuns from Münster go to Berlin
Retreat in an emergency accommodation for homeless people in Kreuzberg - two women and five men from Münster got involved in this modern adventure. The church group of Berlin "Religious Sisters and Brothers Against Exclusion" had invited. Sister Petra Maria Tollkötter is reporting about this religious retreat in an unusual environment.
Berlin-Kreuzberg, Görlitzer Park. "We have waited for you", two slightly drunk homeless people merrily welcomed me. They offered beer to me and a place on the park bench. We got into talking, talked about this and that, no world-moving things. Nevertheless this level is suddenly there, completely easy, uncomplicated and genuine. These two from the Görlitzer Park had no longer stress to leave a good impression. They talked in the way they had learned: straight out, honestly, directly - and helped me to do it also, until there was no longer anything to lose.
Ten days we slept in an emergency accommodation for homeless people. Each evening we met and exchanged our experiences. Starting point was the Bible story of the burning thorn shrub: God opened Moses' eyes for his living presence in a dry, fruitless, stinging, and apparently useless thorn shrub. He declared this place as "holy ground", and asked Moses to take off his shoes: to make himself smaller, to give up "foot security", to feel the real ground. And to look at the reality that surrounds me, and to notice what is moving in me.
Our hosts had listed so-called "holy places" for us in Kreuzberg, places where people live who are excluded from our society: streetwalker, jail-birds, social and labour office, soup kitchen, and drug emporium. To approach these people, to feel what is moving in me, and to bring it in connection with my "knowledge" as Christian: God is present in all these human beings. For each of us a different place became the "holy place". My mind was in those days very much occupied with the question how Jesus could get so intensively contact with people, although he was nevertheless so different from them. That means for me: Where does the level of contact with homeless persons lie, on which we overcome the ditch that lies apparently so naturally between us? Where is the level of 'being with each other', beyond all the boundaries and barriers that people erect between themselves?
With those questions I set out on the way through Kreuzberg. Once before the St Hedwig Cathedral a beggar-woman invited me with a small gesture to set me to her on the ground. We changed a few words; gloss came into her otherwise so expressionless eyes. The contact was there. Then she forced eleven pennies into my hand: Would I get her a coffee probably? She did not know me, and after a few minutes she entrusted to me a part of their small fortune. That touched me deeply. Not I had to give something to these people, but they made presents to me - quietly, inconspicuously and unobtrusively.
These and many other encounters with the "poor", the excluded people were very moving. Just in their inconspicuousness and simplicity they became for me the "burning thorn shrub". It is an enormous difference whether I "know" that God is present in each human being, or I f e e l , s e e, and e x p e r i e n c e it suddenly tangible. I can know as much as possible about the consistency of wine - which wine really is I will only know if I taste it. By ten days "heart training", as I call the retreat on the street gladly, my perspective, and the view of homeless persons and people living at the margins of society changed generally. In addition they helped me to solidarity beyond my vocational role - a solidarity that has become more awake for situations where people are excluded.
Published in the Münster Street Newspaper "Outside!" 10/2001
Jean Lecuit SJ
"Take Off Your Shoes ..."
Five Fellow Jesuits of the Province Took Part in a Retreat on the Street
'Take off your shoes;
because the place where you stand,
is holy soil'
Some day Moses saw during his work an unusual phenomenon: A shrub was burning without burning up. He approached out of curiosity, and was then requested to take off his shoes, because the place where he stood was "holy ground".
Christian Herwartz, a Jesuit from Berlin, unemployed worker priest is living in Kreuzberg, a suburb disadvantaged by the city. His community (there are three Jesuits) shares its life and lodgings with a dozen of people from the street. Some day someone asked him, if it were possible to make a retreat in his community. About this adventure he reported in the Yearbook of the Society of Jesus 2002.
Some Fellow Jesuits from the social apostolate of our Province, who know Christian for a long time, asked him to direct them spiritually in their retreat in Brussels in July 2003 in the same way as he does it in Germany.
What is the burning shrub in the life of each of us? St Ignatius invites us to leave behind the familiar surroundings of our activities, in order to find the call directed at us by God. Where will we find our burning shrub in the heart of life, but outside the restrictions of our usual activities? Christian suggested to us to go on the streets. As he writes in the article, he invited us to listen to our own inner voice, and let us lead by it. Each human being is tempted at certain places by anguish. And so many people can only slowly approach, e.g. an accumulation of drug addicts, or they feel even urged to keep their distance. If somebody is able to get breath and he succeeds in staying, he/she will begin to take off his/her shoes and leave them behind. There a "compositio loci" develops for the meditation and the prayer, Ignatius would say.
This place is different for everyone, and sometimes you have to roam about the city for two or three days in order to find just that place; a place that will surprisingly worry and attract us at the same time. And then we will, either from a distance or after a flight, untie our sandals and stay, to become vulnerable like Moses by listening to the One who Is, and who knows the anguish of his people in its misery. For one of us it was the Petit Château (asylum accommodation), for another successively the house numbers 127 and 127bis (prison-like asylum collecting point on the airport) during a long march, following the Haecht Street, later on the Boulevard de Dixmude (waiting for illicit work) with men and women from Eastern Europe or Africa, who are, as in the parable of "the worker in the vineyard", waiting on the place until a car will stop to offer them work. For a third participant then it was the encounter with people on the streets of the city center. Two others found a bench, one of them in the park, the other in the Hellemans-Settlement in the Marolles, where they had to wait, to see, and to listen.
In the evening we celebrated Eucharist together with Christian and Jacques Enjalbert, a French Scholastic, who made last year the retreat on the street in Berlin-Kreuzberg. After the following dinner we shared in detail with each other the experiences of the day.
Everybody participated so in the helplessness of the others, to communicate what he had felt at the one or other side of a wall or lattice (at the house numbers 127 and 127bis, at the Petit Château), and how he had sensed Jesus' powerlessness on the cross, who could do nothing else but only be there, present in the suffering and in the most intimate and holiest longings of all who were around him.
Everyone took part in the noisy friendship of emigrated Poles, with whom they sat on a bench beside the beer doses from the supermarket, or in the friendly reception and in the fairly divided game with those people on the street, who blow up the passers-by humorously, but also in the prayer of the black Brazilian woman, who too was without roof over her head, and who had a longing to read the Bible. The fears of those who were waiting for work at the Petit Château and of those who were controlled by police patrols; their dismayed escape became that of us all: "I know their fears"; the conviction of many among them - Muslims or Christians -, that God was among us, and accompanied our searching everywhere.
The unsuccessful life of a woman of modest conditions who wanted to relax on a bench, and who told of her harm to one of us "who did not know her", and "was not known to her"; on the next day the life of another woman from the same milieu, who came to the same bench, and who had chosen the single state in order to be available for her people, and for many projects for the future in the hearts of them. "The one who is meditating will not always be challenged". Hence we talked also about our embarrassment, about the place looked for by those who were praying but that could not be found by them yet, or also, e.g. about the men and women who, without hesitating, went to and fro on the Rue Blaes and the Rue Haute, about gestures of friendship or mutual assistance, and about playing children.
Christian, but every other member of the group too, reflected in this exchange with very great caution upon what he noticed of the experience of the other one, and for the next day he suggested to him to do a further step, to meditate on a Bible text, and by this help the fruits of his prayer will ripen.
In the course of time the present of our way of investigations became our devotion to the One Who Is There; and our sandals were untied step by step, so that our hearts opened to the requests and questions addressed to us by those who saw us enter into their lives. "What are you doing?" - "I am looking for God." - "Here?" or: "You are talking like a priest." - "I am a priest." And sometimes long dialogues about God and his place in our life initiated. The usually forgotten internal life of a city began to become a part of our own life, and a mute prayer: "I praise you, father, ruler of heaven and earth, because you have hidden all that from the wise and intelligent but revealed it to those under age. Yes, father, so it pleased you" (Lk10,21).
Does here not appear the mystery of the union (Communion) between Father and Son? Does Jesus not express in this prayer that he as man is living his intimacy with his Father in union (Communion) with the understanding for those things which are most important to human beings, in particular to those "without voice" (this is the sense of the Greek word "nepioi", that is usually translated as "minor")? Yes, "the lord is at this place, and I did not know it" (Gen 28.16).
What should the two disciples do after their long way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, where the "meaning of the Holy Scriptures" opened, after recognizing the Lord when he broke the bread (Mt 25.40), if not repeat the way by returning? There their friends, who had stayed in Jerusalem, told them, "It is true. He did really rise from the dead and appeared to Simon." And they told them, "how they had recognized him." And "they were still talking when he stepped into their midst" (see Lk 24:33-36).
We closed these eight days together in the Poverello (a soup kitchen) in the Rue Verte, to hear who is living there, and to tell about the things we had experienced. We have tried to meet there with socially excluded people - with them and also with Jesus who has said, "where two or three are together in my name, there I am in their midst" (Mt 18:20).
At the end of our last evening meeting in the house No. 132 Rue de la Poste - there we occupied two rooms (with kitchen): in the one room we all (except two) slept on the floor, in the other one we ate and met in the morning and in the evening - we felt that we made an experience which reminded us of that of the first companions of Ignatius. One of us said, "Actually the things we have experienced are not much different from what the first companions were allowed to experience, as they lived in empty-standing houses in Venice."
After summer we will look for means to pass on this gift to other Jesuits, if possible from the next year on, in a new edition of "retreats on the street".
Jean Lecuit S.J.,
Published in the Circular of the South Belgian Province,
SR. Petra Bigge
On the Streets of Nuremberg
During my street retreat in Nuremberg I went one afternoon to the prison neighbouring our house. Several of the participants had already told of it. I wanted only to look, and let me address by the walls.
When I approached it, I saw from far the door of the reception room open. Some people sat under shady trees and found there refreshment in the summer heat. I sat down likewise under those trees on the small wall, and observed the coming and going. Women and men came out and talked with each other: Frustrated, excited, exhausted and tired. An older gentleman attracted my attention. He was dressed completely in white. He went to and fro before the large gate. Suddenly he was called in. After a short time he came out again.
I observed also that many officials went in and out. Change of shifts. This meant well-earned closing time for these and beginning of service for those people. I observed their faces, where they went and with which vehicles they left the work.
I made up my mind to go nearer to the reception room. When I rose, the gentleman dressed completely in white came and asked me, for whom I waited. I answered, "I am looking for God."
He said, "I just ransomed my son expensively. If you wait still forty minutes, then he will come. You can come along to us. Food and lodging are free. You can cooperate in my restaurant. I will show you everything."
I said I had time tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. He meant this was too short. I should stay half a year, and see whether it would please me by him or not.
Only while telling it in the community of the Combonis it became clear to me that God had spoken in that encounter. Also today the words are still resounding in my ear:
I ransomed expensively my son. In forty minutes he will come. - And looking at the clock I noticed that in forty minutes our service should begin.
He wants to come also in this Advent to everyone of us. We too are ransomed, expensively ransomed, free children of God.
SR. Petra Bigge - 2003
Retreat on the
We were sitting in the St Michael Church in Berlin-Kreuzberg around Christ's statue that gave me such an impression of helplessness ... We filled the centre with symbols of the meanwhile almost past ten retreat days. A cigarette dump, two hands full of street dirt - a brown mixable from all colours, a beer mat with an imprinted crown, the pledge for two beer bottles, a paving-stone and a pebble, a pair open (empty?) hands, two curious naked feet ... Nine participants and four spiritual directors, our attempts to understand our own self were just as differently as we were - in the encounter with others in Berlin-Kreuzberg.
Also the bench there at the Oranienplatz, where perhaps those people had sat who had left that dump or the beer mat, became a symbol. Or the stubborn lines on the wall of that occupied house nearby East station: The border would not run between the peoples, but between rich and poor...
Edges, Borders and Transitions
I'm in the street. Do I run through the streets, as if I had lost something? - Like a straying dog? Or is there a certainty that the basis for my roaming about is a way that will lead to a goal? The places are found often simply by going. I do not need to look desperately for them. But decisions will not fail to come; otherwise I would not go ahead. Sometimes there is no in between, no middle course. The traffic lights: Stop, Stay, Go. There is often no 'green', but standstill - 'red'. My longing is usually connected with the fear of change...
Which are the places where I can "open"? Openness implies making oneself vulnerable. How often the feeling for the borders of the vis-à-vis is missing, or there is an indifference to respect these border, not to cross them without being asked.
Nevertheless - or just therefore - I want to be and I must remain vulnerable, because nothing can grow where something has hardened. "Love" is written in huge letters on a house wall...
The "Room of Silence" in the Charité: We define illness by our yardstick of health, not reversely. Perhaps therefore the "normal" is taken so closely. Then the room for saying farewell: Through the sterile-white floors I went into the open air. The people before the hospital were silent, some of them bearing the mark of sorrow and pain.
I did not feel the 'Memory Church' as an area of meditation and stillness. For me it keeps in its inside too little of that painful difference of the outside reality ... for me
Straussberger Platz. 17th June. Stalinallee: Enormous streets, little green, very much GDR still between the house blocks. Utopia of equality leading to egalitarianism and a levelling down of opposites and differences. "Unity" - that most frequent used word in the GDR.
Everything else, the decadent, the surreal was seen as threat - and therefore prevented. An artificially produced harmony did not want to bear contrasts and conflicts, and did not want or could not live from them.
Asians instead of Turks: Their faces do not so much speak of distinct individualism. Ostkreuz, tasty, (a play on words: eastern-(t)asty) east wind, and -wheel. "The country where I was born does not lie any longer in this world ...", Hans Eckhardt Wenzel is singing.
The 'No Man's Land' at the former wall: In Romania I am considered as a west European, in Austria clearly as German, and I still define me, inside and outside Germany as an East German...
The difference between east and west in the parts of this city is still noticeable to me quite strongly. It makes a difference, if I go around in Prenzlauer Berg or in Kreuzberg. But nevertheless the "border" is running today probably less between east and west - rather between rich and poor...
With Each Other - In the Middle of It
On the steps of an underground station this young beggar. He asked for a little change or an old ticket. Completely naturally I passed him, gave to the ticket automat just as naturally the called in money - and wonder. I went back ponderously and asked a little pedantically, why he sat there and for what he needed the money.
Interest, real interest I cannot demand, it cannot be provoked. It is there or not. With friendship it is similarly, and especially for love it is true. They are gifts, not projects or plans.
We engaged in conversation with each other. He asked me why I came back, and what I was doing. I answered hesitatingly, "I am looking for God - in encounters on the street, outside of church walls." I was surprised that I could answer something to his question at all. Time and again he meant that was "crack-brained", and looked at me surprised, smiling.
In the morning I had been quite irresolute what direction I should take on this day. Neither way nor goal was certain for me, and they did also not appear, as in the days before, simply by going. I had asked someone for the way - hence for the way which I should go.
Now I could ask this young man, "Which places are so important for you that you would send me there? Where am I to go?" He found the question not at all so strange, as I assumed, but mused for a long time before he answered. If I could stand something really violent, then I should go to the emergency service for drug addicts at the Wittenbergplatz. A beautiful place for him was the Treptower Park. Two places could stand for the two different sides of his life. We said good-bye, but he did actually accompany me, was a kind of "signpost" or at least someone who gave me something - something of himself - for my way.
When I arrived at the Wittenbergplatz, I had to ask again for the way, and in doing so I got surprised, pitying looks. Eventually I found the emergency service. At the door no handle, but a knob. I would have to ring, in order to get in. "May I look around here a bit? I have spoken with one 'customer of yours'..." But I did not enter. I did not want to be somebody curious, with the "interest of a social worker". Instead I sat down on the opposite side of the street and took the time for observing how hard is was for "customers" to ring, and to cross that threshold...
I went toward Treptower Park. I set out without bag and my attitude - on the finally very long way - reminded me of somebody who goes just around the corner to the mail box. A beautiful, liberating feeling: Enormous poplar avenues, calm meadows in the midst of the loud city. A reassuring place, and I divined why it was a beautiful place for my "guide"...
The steel structure in the Görlitzer Park: From far it looked like an inclined-standing church. From close I recognized: If its side braces were parallel, it would tilt. It is standing only by its counter-resting. Hence one holds the other one - a holding each other? ...
Our living together is often regulated by rules. Just as often they restrict it. If we do not get beyond the keeping of rules, the productive unrest is missing, that livliness which becomes only possible by irregularities and crossing of frontiers. The limits and rules of our retreat group were for a large part determined by us. They are differently constituted as by silence retreats. The challenge did not lie in the seclusion, but in the midst of life, just on the street.
Our group did not consist of "wire-pullers" and those who go along. Our living together - with breakfast, dinner, morning impulse, service, rounds of talk in the evening - functioned
by all our diversity outside of these usual thinking and behaviour patterns. No 'drawer thinking' with its finality of judgement, and the often destroying hierarchy. Strictly speaking, we were living in the group the same life as on the street - where we meet other, different people as equals, whereby "equal" is to be understood in the sense of "equivalently" or "equally", and not as abolishing of peculiarities, of being different.
At the beginning of our retreat stood the tale of Moses, who heard a voice from the burning thorn shrub. He was curious, took the time, and stopped. He listened.
I have expectations and conceptions how I should hear this "voice from the thorn bush", and I can rarely accept, when it happens not according to my ideas.
My symbol of the retreat was therefore a pebble that had time and again crept into my shoes on the streets of Berlin. Not a huge stumbling-block that would set a Sylvester Feeling of large resolutions at the end of these days, no. A tiny stone, easily overlooked, that nevertheless were able to compel me to stop, to listen, and to look. I wanted and I had to take the time for that stone, whose friction I so often ignore in the everyday life, on which I sometimes get footsore, until, some day, there is no longer any getting ahead.
December 2003 Jev-Net
Sr. Klara Maria Breuer
Berlin Took Off My Shoes
To practice respectful seeing and listening: That was the aim of the street retreat in Berlin. For three years the group "Religious Sisters and Brothers Against Exclusion" invites to these days in the capital. And I had expectantly embarked on it, to experience that the metropolis with its pulsating and opposite life can become a "holy place" of encounter with God.
In sunny weather the way lead me on the first day to a park bench in Kreuzberg. I could not be recognized as nun. I was wearing civilian clothes. After some time a Turk woman sat down by me. "I've been living here for 40 years already", she told me. Her friendly, warm-hearted way was a present for me, and let me take off the shoes of my reservations.
Take off the shoes: This picture from Moses' encounter with God at the burning thorn shrub was the red thread of those days. In that tale God revealed himself in the thorny, first little inviting plant. From the thorn shrub Moses heard the call, "Take off your shoes, because the place where you stand is holy ground." Christian Herwartz, Jesuit, and one the spiritual directors of the street retreat, unfolded this picture already on the first day: "To take off your shoes means: Not to rise above others, to touch the often thorny reality with your naked feet, to look there for your own injuries and brutalities, your own and other people's strange longings, and for the ways that will lead to a fulfilled life."
A simple life-style in these days was helpful for us to get nearer to the reality of people who live at the margin of society. Our night lodging in Kreuzberg was in the cellar of the St Michael parish centre that in winter is open also for homeless people. To the personal prayer we could use the parish church as well as the chapel of the Siessen Franciscan nuns in direct neighbourhood. We had our meals in the parish hall. Here we met in the evening also to services, and exchanged our experiences in small groups.
We were four women and five men who took part in the retreat in that hot summer week. There have to be added our spiritual directors, two Jesuits and two nuns. By the first common breakfast we sat together with guests who handed, as it were, the "baton" to us. The Buddhist monk Heinz-Jürgen as well as a man and a woman reported on experiences of their meditation days. They had really lived several days on the street. They experienced the inestimable value of communication without words: a view, a gesture. I too should experience this in the coming days.
"Sometimes you will go thereby also through painful stages of self-realization", read the invitation text of the supervisors of the retreat days. I did not feel them by the meeting with the Turk woman on the park bench yet, but on the second day when I visited the Franciscans' soup kitchen for homeless people in Pankow.
First I wanted to help there, by cleaning vegetables and peeling fruit. But these "shoes" were taken off me. "We do not need you. There is enough aid", was said to me. I took place by those who waited for the handing out of food. There I got a further important lesson of those days: To be invited is a gift. We can place ourselves - figuratively spoken - only on the market place, keep us open and ready. Whether we are invited or not is not our business. Father Herwartz directed our attention to that fact already at the beginning of the retreat days.
In the soup kitchen I was eventually invited quite actually. Martha, a woman past seventy addressed me, and asked me to take place at her side. Gradually I understood the present of that encounter. After the visit of the soup kitchen she lead me to the stations of her everyday life: housing office, citizen park, coffee drinking for senior citizens in the Evangelical City Mission. Thus she opened the way for me to come into contact with her friends. Already on the third and fourth day I was almost an "old acquaintance" in the soup kitchen. I felt a little from their sorrows, knew gradually what it meant to join the queue. I was grateful for the warm meal and the sandwiches. I felt: This is a "holy" place.
I found another "holy place" by the grave of the Evangelical Minister Dr. Joachim Ritzkowski. He wrote a book about living with homeless people. Actually I wanted to meet him living. But in his church I heard of his death. On his initiative the parish had acquired from the municipality a burial place for poor and homeless people. He wanted to be buried there. A woman led me eventually there. I read a sign over the burial place covered with poppy and cornflowers: "I am living and you too shall live." So this stranger said to me, by the few facts that I heard about him, how valuable my life is. And of exactly the same value is the life of those who daily visit the soup kitchen. Like Martha who became my way companion in those days there. "Eat still some food", she offered to share her second helping of salad with me. First I hesitated, but then I accepted her invitation. She is a deeply felt gift.
Sr. Klara Maria Breuer SMMP
From: Continents 1/2004, We About Us
Christoph Albrecht SJ
A Retreat on the Street
Took Place in Fribourg at the End of Octobers (2004)
Who remembers still my report of a retreat of this kind in Basel? That was in October 2003. In this year we, i.e. Mathilde Röntgen, Maria Sinz, Christian Herwartz SJ, and I directed such a retreat in Fribourg. This time the Carmelites gave us lodgings for ten days in their four guest rooms. We were altogether twelve people. It was narrow. We had to use the rooms as dining-hall, day rooms, discussion rooms, and bedrooms, as well as room for our services. That demanded of us all tolerance and considerateness.
There were daily common times, of which only the talk with the spiritual directress was really obligating. Common breakfast at eight o'clock, at nine o'clock morning praise always arranged by a she participant, service at five o'clock p.m., thereafter dinner, and at 7 o'clock p.m. began the exchange in small groups. Apart from that the day was organized by everyone her/himself. Yes, this time eight women took part.
To direct those who made the retreat we formed again two small groups that were directed in each case by a woman and a Jesuit. Also this year the participants were gradually introduced into the Spiritual Exercises, by encouraging them first to call God together with their own longing for salvation and reconciliation, but then also when staying in the city to take off internally their shoes:
Take off the shoes - this picture is taken from the Biblical tale Exodus 3: Moses, a goatherd in the desert Sinai, saw in his everyday life something unusual: A thorn shrub burned and did nevertheless not burn up. He became curious and wanted to see the happening at close range. He ran to the thorn shrub. There he heard a voice that said to him: Take off your shoes! You stand on holy ground, because life, the prime longing, the fundamental vitality, the things not known by you, because God wants to speak with you here. Moses heard now anew about the enslavement of his people and by that also about his own repressed misery, and how an important role on the way of liberation was granted to him.
To take off the shoes is a picture for the readiness to listen with respect. The - by boots also defensive - distance of shoes is laid down, also the conceit to have the better or more beautiful shoes. The often thorny reality is touched with naked feet, in order to look there for the own injuries and
brutalities, for my own and the longings of others, and for the ways to a fulfilled life. By taking off our shoes we begin, in the middle of the world of opinions and prejudices, to enter into an 'ignoramus'; to become more respectful before reality, and before the human beings in it - also in relation to our own history and future; briefly: to hear anew, to see, to smell, to grope at the place of attention, that has become "holy".
It was for me the first time that I heard so violent things in a group. Not like with the direction of a single person, where the confidence necessary for openness is mostly soon there, but here the participants opened in a group that, by its dynamism, admitted totally other healing forces.
A participant told what she had experienced with the Crying Woman (a bronze statue in Fribourg's pedestrian precinct). And how she was confronted with her own experiences in this city, where begging is forbidden, and where they explained to her in the labour office: Everybody will find work here, we have the situation under control, there is no poverty in our city ... Why is this woman able to cry day and night, in a city where the problems are solved? Where have I still to cry, although I function in everyday life more than well? With these questions she discovered on the further days her own wounds.
With the attitude of the taken off shoes she approached the brothel, saw the women, most black Africans, who wanted to hide themselves before her, saw their misery, their pain not to be respected as persons by other people, and saw then her own wound, how she had been hurt as child in her own identity. A few days later she discovered the relief of a Black Madonna in the St Thérèse Church. She was just as beautiful as those women who are delivered to the greed of men. She was completely one of them. In the directed exchange of the small group it became clear that this wholesome inner experience of solidarity would become still clearer, if she could express it with a gesture.
On the last day she brought roses to the three places where crying was allowed. And this act opened again a surprise: How should she give a rose to a statue, and not pay attention to the harmonica player in the wheelchair beside it?! Hence she let herself be led by her embarrassment; she gave also to the man a rose. He looked up and smiled at her - with tears in his eyes. On the last day this woman said: "These ten days save me one year therapy."
Christoph Albrecht SJ
From: Nuntii, 2004.4
(Mitteilungen der Schweizer Jesuitenprovinz)
A Marvelous Street Retreat - Good-bye Daniel
On the search for God I was sitting with alcohol patients on a park bench. Outside on the left was a man, in the center a half lying woman, and on the right side I. For three days I belonged to them somehow. The woman wanted to sleep, and complained that she could not sleep. I ate an apple at that moment and asked her: "Shall we sing a sleep song?" But while I was still chewing, she began in a kind of singsong with "sleep, dear, sleep". When she stopped, and when my apple was eaten, I began to sing myself, and suddenly she straightened herself, looked dumbfounded at me and asked, "From where do you know that?" I answered, "I have two children".
There she told - now wide awake -, as if the sleep song had opened the floodgates of a dam, "I have five children, the youngest died with ten and a half weeks. In the night at half past one they called from the hospital, "Come, if you want to see your son yet." I went there by taxi. There they put the child into my arms - and 'good-bye'. "Beautiful, eh?" she looked at me, and I could only say, "Shit". She repeated, as if it was her refrain, "They have put the child into my arms - and good-bye, beautiful, he?" For me remained only to answer again, "shit". With tears in her eyes she talked about her deceased son, and about the ride through the night, as if it had been just last week, and not many years ago.
I felt how I became sad, and that my own mourning came up, my sleeping mourning over my ten-year old nephew Daniel, who died seven years ago unexpectedly fast. Resigned the woman ended her narration, "but you are not interested in that." The man on her left tried to divert her: "Let's talk about other things." It's enough to me for today. I owed it to an alcoholic that I knew now: I have still to settle an old account with God. I felt mourning and rage about Daniels death.
In the evening after the service in the exchange with the group I told about it, and I asked myself, how that would go on, how I would go ahead. Suggestions, where the way for me could continue: In a paediatric clinic, in the cemetery at a child grave, or with the history of a David who with twelve years had a deadly accident in the holiday camp, and was buried at home. On the next morning by the morning impulse I painted with street mark chalk a labyrinth in the inner court. We heard the Emmaus story, went into the labyrinth and prayed there. Then I went to the subway station and took the next best underground. In the train I decided to go out where children would go out. But there was no child in the car.
Only some stations later a family entered, and as they got out I went in the same direction, and landed finally in a park. There three boys were playing at hide-and-seek, and I painted for them with the rest of my street mark chalk. They came and asked, "What are you doing there?" I let them guess, and they found out that I was drawing a labyrinth on the pavement. Somewhat later I sat on the bench beside and read about the deceased child David. Now the curious boys returned and went through the labyrinth, went out and in, and played thereby. I read about that David, to whom at home in Berlin they had said 'farewell', and had buried him then. The scales fell from my eyes that I had not correctly said 'good-bye' to my nephew Daniel.
I have buried more than three years, have advised the mourning to say good-bye, but I myself did not said 'farewell' to Daniel. I stayed in the centre of my mourning. There I saw how one of the boys took the remaining chalk stub and wrote into the centre of the labyrinth "BEGINNING". Yes, that exactly is it: I am in the centre of my mourning, because I did not say good-bye to Daniel. Now I had to do that, now I had to say somehow good-bye to Daniel. I have to do it. In that moment there came from the left side an older woman with a child, about one year old. The child went plodding across the centre of the labyrinth, came to my park bench and looked at me expectantly. I said "hello". The woman called impatiently: "Daniel, come, we go".
I stopped: Unbelievably. There in the midst of my mourning, of my need to say 'good-bye, came a little Daniel. And as if God who provides for me, wanted to signal still more clearly with the fence stake, the woman called also: "Daniel, say 'good-bye'!" Hot and cold it ran down my back. I referred it to me. I bent myself to Daniel, stroke him gently over his back and said so 'good-bye' to my Daniel, "good-bye, Daniel". Then the little Daniel went away. Thus I entrusted my nephew to God who provides for me, and who accompanies me. The place was an everyday place in the park, and at the same time for me holy ground, as holy as the ground at the burning thorn shrub. Still now, months after it, when I'm telling about it, when I try to put the miracle into words, it affects me still now.
God met me in Nuremberg
From Friday, 6 August 2004, I was accommodated in Nuremberg, in the Comboni-Mission-House and took part in a 'Retreat on the Street'. Retreats are Spiritual Exercises in which one let oneself be lead by one's heart, respectively by God. God can wait for us at any place.
We, eleven participants and four Spiritual Directors, were on the search for God. During the day everybody went alone to places (e.g. railway stations, emergency sleep places for homeless persons, prisons, hospitals, churches) at which we hoped to meet God. In the evening we exchanged our experiences in groups.
I took part in these Exercises, because since some years I feel in me much pain on the grounds of certain events in my young days. Many of my friends died of excessive alcohol and drug consumption or killed themselves, because they did not find a way out of their depressions. I managed to bail out, my life went on, and no time was left to my mourning.
In the old part of the town sad remembrances were called back to mind by homeless people, punks, and drug-addicted. I was falling deeper and deeper into my mourning and into my fears. At that time I had experienced much violence and humiliation from men.
I was crying on the platform, mourning in churches, and refuelled strength again at the stones of the castle and city-wall. Among many people I remained all alone "in the middle of the street". After six days of sadness and loneliness I had a deep longing after human nearness and social contacts.
A man with a dog sat opposite to the Lorenz Church and sold the "Straßenkreuzer" (Nuremberg Social Magazine). I bought a booklet and we engaged in conversation with each other. "What are you doing here so completely alone?" - "I am looking at my past once again and am taking out my sadness." "Why?" I told a little bit. The seller nodded understandingly, and told of his past. One and a half hours I sat beside him on the cobble-stone pavement and felt accepted and safe.
At the parting we shook hands with one another and looked thereby for a long time and deeply into each other's eyes. In this moment I felt a bond from mine to his heart. "I would be pleased, if you drop in tomorrow again. I am always selling here."
I was looking forward to our meeting, and from a distance already his laughing eyes bid me welcome. We had a lot to tell each other, and drank much comfortably coffee on the plaster of the Lorenz place. "Will you visit me this evening? I have an own dwelling, not anything terrific. But I am proud of it, since I have lived several years "on the road"." With each pulsating of my heart I felt how my fears of men took possession of my body: "No, I cannot do that!" - "Why?" I told with a voice choked with tears. He looked at me sympathetically: "It is your confidence that got broken." I nodded. Alone I went into the Klara Church crying and praying. When I came back again, he asked: "Do you come along to the Wöhrd meadows? There the dog can have a good romp, and we can lie in the shadow." I agreed spontaneously. When we arrived there we sat diagonally vis-à-vis and my companion clasped gently my left knuckle. I frightened: "Stop it!" My fear was there again and I loosened immediately his hand from my foot. I found his touch however to be very pleasant.
It touched me quite deeply. He released me, looked at me sadly and blankly. I broke our silence: "I want to offer only friendship to you only, not more." With the parting I felt how hurt he was.
On my long way home - I run all ways in Nuremberg barefoot - I was all tears again. Suddenly I saw me sitting as many years ago with an older friend, and I touch his knuckle with my hand exactly the same as one hour ago this man had done with me. Now my old pain surged up from my soul's depths. I remembered. It had been a plea for help. At that time I was finished, and knew no longer how my life should go on. Now I understood the gesture of my companion, and knew also why it had affected me so deeply.
On the day after he was not at the Lorenz place, so I went to him home. He was quite pleased with my attendance and told me about his depressions and his longing for death, because he saw no longer any chance to get his life under control financially. We talked about missing security and love, and missing social contacts. "I had yesterday just such a large longing to feel the nearness and warmth of a human being that understands me."
Now I could admit my deep feeling for this man fearlessly. I had met myself in him. I cannot describe my feeling with words. I feel a bond from heart to heart, nearness, love and confidence; something within me has been healed. I thank God from my heart that I was allowed to recognize him.
My meeting with God gave a new direction to my life. It is for me a tremendous gift to recognize my life-task, and to fulfil it step by step. Between the seller of the "Straßenkreuzer" and me a friendship grew, and we support each other mutually on our course of life.
Since my Street Retreat I know how our fears and unresolved pains prevent our confidence, that is to say our faith (confidence in God).
In the last analysis we have fear of us. I was ready to look back, to look deeply into me - and just there I found HIM. To that the Jacob Well comes into my mind, or "Love your neighbour as yourself."
All these things were clear as daylight to me theoretically, before I went to Nuremberg. But to be allowed to experience this, to feel it (on) body and soul, is a gift that cannot be expressed with words.
Joseph Mumbere Musanga
Street Retreat in Nuremberg
Mad Experiences with God in a Restaurant and in the JVA Nuremberg.
As a member of the family of the Comboni Missionaries the so-called "religious retreats" are something well-known for me. Up to the last street retreat in Nuremberg I had got to know only the experience of quiet retreats always connected with silence, peace and a personal listening into me, in order to discover God's traces in my personal history and in the made life experiences. Those retreats were always a special time for me, in which I have drawn much strength for my life way. I think particularly of the 30 days retreat in stillness before my eternal vows. Those 30 days helped me to clarify all fears and uncertainties in me, before I said the eternal 'yes' to the life in a missionary Order. I drove therefore to Nuremberg filled with confidence, even if the decision for Nuremberg had not been easy.
I had heard two years ago about the street retreat from my Brother and friend Juan. What I knew of it was only that it was wonderful. More I did not know. Already two years ago I wanted to take part in it, but it was not possible. I had heard from Juan and Brigitte that this year the retreat would take place in Nuremberg. But for me it was not easy to make a decision for the street retreat, because I had to write the thesis (diploma), and in addition I had two luring invitations of two groups of Pathfinders whom I direct spiritually in Rome. The one had asked me to accompany them to Yugoslavia for a ten days service in a refugee camp, the other one to Cologne to the World Youth Day. I had to make a difficult decision between these two invitations and the retreat. After a time of struggle for the right decision I settled with a great inner unrest upon Nuremberg, even if I imagined the two invitations for more luring and more bustling than the street retreat. You must know, I had fear that I would have to regret later that I had chosen Nuremberg instead of Yugoslavia or Cologne. At the end of the street retreat I said to myself: "Aye, Joseph, you did decide rightly. That has been just the experience that you needed, before you go back to the Congo!" Now what did I experience in Nuremberg? Many mad experiences with God: in the churches and on the streets of Nuremberg among people who went shopping, in restaurants, in prison, in the mosque by the prayer with Muslims, by the experiences of my fellow participants in the exchange rounds in the evening, in prayers and songs, in the Eucharist, etc ... The days of the street retreat have been filled days. I would like now to summarize only some of those experiences.
The street retreat began on Friday, 19 August, in the evening. The first two days (Saturday and Sunday) were entrance days into the atmosphere of that kind of retreat. By me the mad experiences with God began during that street retreat in Nuremberg on Monday, 22nd August. On this day Moses' encounter with God at the thorn shrub (Exodus 3) was given to us as a way companion. The catchwords resounding in me thereafter were two: first I realized anew that the holy ground, where one has to take off one's shoes can be each place, and that you can find this holy ground of an encounter with God also on the streets of our restless cities; then my heart was burning by the invitation of Christian Herwartz, to answer to people who we would meet on the streets, and who might ask us, simply, "I am looking for God!" The whole street retreat has then developed and was summed up for me in: holy ground - to take off your shoes - to look for God at unusual places, to find and meet.
1. Where Can I Meet God, Where Is the Holy Ground in Nuremberg?
The street retreat helped me to change my view of places that I in former times had seen as holy. On Monday, 22nd August, after God's encounter with Moses at the thorn shrub had been presented to us in a new way, nothing else came into my mind as to make a pilgrimage to various churches of Nuremberg, in order to look for God there. For me churches were my only familiar holy ground. There is announced God's word and celebrated God's meal. I was sure that there God could be found by me. So I set out and visited St Anthony Church, Three Magi's Church, Jacob Church, Laurence Church, Our Lady's Church, etc. In those churches I could speak with three persons. I introduced myself to them only as somebody who is looking for God. I concealed my priestly and missionary role. I wanted to be be enlightened on God by others, who stayed in those churches.
The first person in St Jacob Church I asked the question, where I could find God in this church. She answered me - very surprised by my question - something like, "... Well ... I do not know ... You cannot find God in this church. One cannot see him, because he is in heaven. We come not into this church to find God, but to pray to him. I for example come always here to light a candle and to pray to God that he protects my family, that he assists the sick, etc. Here come people who have already found him. To find him you have to search somewhere else ..." The discussion with this woman called my attention to the fact that I probably looked for God only at safe places, like churches, with all the things that belong to liturgical meetings, and also that I noticed him scarcely in places uncertain for me, and that I did not go there to look for him. Hence that has been a correct answer to my question. I should find God somewhere else and then come into his house, in order to celebrate Eucharist, saying thanks, after I had met him somewhere else. But where was this holy ground of the God encounter for me?
To the second person in St Laurence Church I put the same question, "Where can I find God in this church?" after I had introduced myself as a simple God seeker. My question caused again surprise and embarrassment, and the church guard whom I had addressed, answered me something like, "... that is a difficult question ... You are looking for a place in this church where you can meet God ... I do not know, what I am to say you, and where I am to send you ... I think you have to look for God in yourself, in your life history ... I do not know it. If you are really on the search for God, I propose that you come to the discussion with an expert on Thursday evening, with a minister ... He would be able to give you a better answer, and could help you ... I could only explain to you something of the paintings that tell of the Christian creed in church history." Also the answer of this man, who had drawn my attention to the fact that I had to look for God in me, in my life history, and in the history of faith, showed me a holy ground of which I had not thought at that time at all. That I and my life history can be a holy ground of God encounter has been a mad surprise for me. I thought that holy ground had only to do with places where you make an extra-ordinary experience.
But no, I, as every other man, can be holy soil. That was the first mad surprise of the street retreat.
The third person in Our Lady's Church, got the same question. She answered me simply so, "... you are looking for God, well ... Sit down in a pew and pray ..." By that so simple answer of the woman in Our Lady's Church I said to myself: That it is. To look for God you need not go back and forth, but you can sit down and listen, because he is already there. I am not the one who has to look for him, since he is always there already and is looking for me. He wants to meet me, if I wait for him with new eyes and an open heart. I should give simply my blind eyes a new way to look, and hold my heart open for everybody and everything, then I had found everywhere and in all things that are and live a holy ground.
On this day I could see that I would discover and experience in this retreat other holy grounds which were completely mad and different from everything that I had regarded as holy ground till now.
2. Taking Off One's Shoes on Holy Ground - Restaurant "White Lion" And Prison...
On Monday I looked for the holy ground in churches, places that we all call, even without thinking of it, holy places. I looked for God on a safe and well-known holy ground. There my attention was called somehow to other things, to search especially in me and my life history. I was on tenterhooks which experiences I would make in the next days. I found then the holy ground at two very different places, where nobody would suspect that there could take place encounters with God: my holy ground, where I could take off my shoes, were a restaurant and a prison. Is that not something mad! My two special God encounters during the street retreat in Nuremberg were so:
1) Restaurant "White Lion" - Attention, Holy Ground. Take Off Your Shoes Please Before the Entrance...
On Tuesday, 23rd August, during the Morning Prayer we heard in the gospel, how Jesus sent 72 disciples into towns and villages. In this gospel Jesus gives a concrete and clear mission: "Go! I send you like sheep into the midst of wolves. Do not take along a purse, a supply bag, and shoes! Do nobody greet on the way! If you enter a house say first: Peace to this house! And if a man of peace lives there, the peace you are wishing him will rest on him; otherwise it will return to you. Stay in this house, eat and drink, what they offer to you; because those who work have a right of their wages. Do not go from one house to another! If you enter a city and they accept you, eat what they put before you. Heal the sick that are there, and say to the people: The kingdom of God is close to you. But if you enter a city where they not accept you, then take our stand on the street and call: Even the dust of your city sticking on our feet, we leave you; but you are to know this: The kingdom of God is close." (Luke 10:3-11). First during the Morning Prayer this order of Jesus did not address me especially. I heard this gospel, as it often happens with me, with the thought that this order of Jesus applied only to his time, when you could do many things without money, a time, when you could get - by the esteem of hospitality embodied in customs - a meal in each house. Despite this thought I decided on this Tuesday to set out without money, in order to see what happened in me.
After some hours of going on different streets of Nuremberg's old town with the thought to look for God in my heart and in my life history, I felt very tired. I went into the St Laurence Church, to the place where they had lighted a candle for Frère Roger from Taizé, to rest in prayer. While praying I became so hungry, I could simply no longer bear it. I did not know what I should do, for I had no money. I wanted only to drive home fast with the underground, and there look for some food.
When I was at the exit, suddenly Jesus' order came into my mind, "If you enter a house then says first: Peace to this house! And if a man of peace lives there, the peace which you wish him will rest on him; otherwise it will return to you. Remain in this house, eat and drink what they offer you; because those who work have a right of their wages." And before me was the "White Lion", a restaurant with the advertisement: "Young Frankish kitchen with a large selection of freshly tapped local beers." Without thinking much I went into this restaurant. I was received by a waitress and explained to her my problem: my wish to eat without having money. She said to me I should talk with her boss. She called the boss, who asked me what I wanted. I said to him that I were on the way on Nuremberg's streets with a group of eleven people, and that we made so-called "street retreats", by looking for God on the street. I explained to him my hunger, and that I was there without money, and asked him for some food. Without asking me any other question, he said to me: "I can find something for you. Please, come and take place. I will serve you ..." That was a mad answer that I had not expected. Mr. Zuonko Beric served me as an honour guest. I ate and drank in his restaurant without having money. Is that not a miracle! After I had eaten and drunk so well, I thanked him and by saying Farewell I said to him, "God may bless your work!"
When I left, I was amazed at the unbelievable experience with Jesus' order to his disciples: I was allowed to experience actually that the order of Jesus' time can also be experienced today, if I take off the shoes of arrogance, pride, wealth, and inhibition, and come to know myself as someone who looked for help of fellow men in all areas. That was something mad. I looked for God in the safe and familiar places. He met me in a restaurant which became holy ground for me. This is street retreat.
2) JVA Nuremberg: God Experience in a Jail...
Friday, 26th August, was for me a special day, because I have been ordained priest on this day four years ago. I wanted to spend this day completely quietly and in meditation, to make a personal evaluation of the four years lived as priest before God. I wanted to meditate anew the formula of my eternal vows, and to draw new spiritual strength for my further way as priest and Comboni Missionary. That was my program for the forenoon, because in the afternoon I should visit with Comboni Sister Assunta a home for mostly African refugees. I had made this program on Thursday for Friday.
In my small exchange group was Bram from Holland, who wanted absolutely to visit the prison. On Wednesday, 24th August, he wanted to visit some Dutchman, who could be in prison. He had tried and done everything possible, in order to get into that prison, but did not succeed. On Thursday 25th he had gotten from Juan the name of Frank Leibl, because you can visit the prison only with a concrete name. He was lucky to be able to visit finally someone in the prison of Nuremberg during the street retreat. Unfortunately for Bram - just on Thursday visits are not permitted. And worse still, he had to go back on Friday to Holland. So he did not succeed in coming into the prison. Therefore he had pressed the name of Frank simply into my hands, and had said to me: "Joseph, here is the name of Frank. I could not visit him, but maybe you can do it for me..." Just on the day of my ordination I should go into the prison, so then run the thought that was there in me. Despite this thought I said to Bram, "I will go into the prison." Thus my whole program, which I had prepared for the day of my priesthood, was brought into disorder.
Immediately after the Morning Prayer led by me, I set out to the prison. Since I did not know at all that there were different entrances (for men, women, and young people under 18 years), I took at once the first entrance. I was received completely friendly from the woman officials. When all the formalities (name and identity documents) were almost finished, the police woman asked me if I visited a woman. I answered that I visited Frank. She said to me I should go to the men, and explained me very friendly, how I could come there. I went to the entrance for visits of men. Now I was excited. I got inside without any problem. It seemed as if all the so strongly locked gates of the prison opened before me simply so. Nobody asked me, why I visited Frank, and if I knew him personally ... Everything went so smoothly, as if this place was no prison.
I entered the waiting-room, sat down, and only there I got quite excited. I began to think about the encounter with Frank. I asked myself how he will react: some unknown person visits him, who is black and who did not announce himself at all. I began to get frightened. With me in the waiting-room were other people who visited relatives, friends or acquaintances. I could not enter into a talk with them, since I was nearly haunted by my thoughts about my encounter with Frank. Almost all visitors went in, also those who had arrived after me. This waiting made me mad. Thank God, there came a black pretty girl. I asked her immediately, from where in Africa she originated. She said to me that she was American, and visited her brother. When we began the talk so, I was called. Frank was there and waited for me.
I entered the room and looked after someone who sat alone. I went to him and asked if he was Frank. He said, yes. I introduced myself, and said I had come to visit him. He was shocked, and could not grasp it. Our meeting was for him and also for me a shock. At the beginning he could not understand it to be visited by an unknown black man. He could not believe it, and he noticed that also to me the words were missing, in order to explain to him, how it happened that I came to see him. He looked totally surprised at me, and asked how I got his name, and why wanted I to visit him. I did not know what to say to him. Often he repeated only, "that is madness; it is not to be understood". The idea came into my mind to ask him of whom he had thought, when the authorities announced to him that he had a visitor. He seemed to become calmer. I too had calmed down. He replied that he had imagined it would be his friend, who had birthday today, or that it would be his former wife with his daughter. We remained some minutes in silence. It was so difficult for me to put further questions. I sat in front of him - wordless.
After some minutes of silence I got the idea to ask him, which from his experience was the most important thing for people in prison. I saw that I got slowly his confidence, and that he had become completely gentle to me. So he answered me that it was love. For it was only the love of his new girl friend that gave strength to him, so that he expected full hope that the eight months he had to spend in jail yet, would pass quickly. He told me that he, when he would be outside again, would try simply to learn to love. I was wordless again. What could I still ask, after I had talked in jail not about hatred but love with a prisoner? He asked me for cigarettes. In my excitement I had unfortunately forgotten to take along enough Euro coins. I could not give him cigarettes, because I had only three One Euro coins with me, not four, as are needed to buy cigarettes here in prison. I was very sorry about it. He comforted me, shook hands with me and said, "Never mind!" The last question I asked him was, if he could get still visits. He said to me, once in a month a visit was allowed. Since I was by him in August, he could get a new visit only in September. After his answer the time was already over. I had to leave Frank. I should return into the so called "liberty", and Frank into his cell.
When I was outside, I had an indescribable feeling. I thought that I had to write a letter for Frank about this indescribable feeling. In the centre of that letter were the questions which I could not ask Frank after he had spoken to me of love. I wrote: "Yes, Frank, tell me, what is love, when one is living there inside the jail for two years already, and is only surrounded by thick walls. What does love mean, if you are treated only as a number by the authorities. What does love mean, if one is allowed to get only once a month a visit. What does love mean, if you cannot experience compassion and forgiveness. The fact that you talk at such a place still of love and believe in it is for me a real miracle."
Yes, that is the miracle of my street retreat. At a place of unworthiness, where "the human dirt of the society" is thrown into a dust bin, where, according to my opinion, only hatred can develop in the hearts of people, there I have talked about love, about the hope to learn to love better. Tell me whether that is the gospel of Jesus or not. Tell me whether that is the summary of the theological virtues: Faith, hope, and love or not. Yes, tell me whether that meeting with Frank has made the JVA Nuremberg to a holy ground for me or not. Yes, there I had to take off my shoes, the shoes of prejudices and of judging about fellow men. I wrote Frank: "I did not come as an attorney to you, who would come to investigate about the misdeed that led you into prison. I did not come to remind you of what had happened and due to which you are imprisoned. I came as a seeker to you, as somebody who is just looking for God on the streets of Nuremberg. In the past days someone replied to my question, "Where can I find God?" I should look for him in me. I have looked for God in my life history and have found his traces. It has been wonderful for me to become aware of these traces of God in my life in a new way. But then I thought, to look for God in me is not something new. I longed for a new and different kind of encounter with him. That was my daily prayer. I think he has given me the answer. From the experience of our meeting I know that he is to be found particularly there where men are treated as dirt, as number."
That was something from my street retreat but not everything. I could write a book, if I wrote down single experiences. At the end I would like to say thanks only. Thanks at Alois, Andrea, Birgit, Bram, Brigitte, Jutta, Klarissa, Laura, Maria-Anna, Susanne, Christian, Juan, Renate, Urban, and Veronika. With them I could make these mad experiences. And they know that I need their hands, to grow always as a true and authentic servant of God.
Rome, 15 September 2005
A Letter during the Retreat on the Street in Nuremberg, August 2005
I am again outside in the so named "free world", after I met you in a mad way and became acquainted with you. I do not know at all, what I am to write you, I would only like to thank you, and to say that the experience that I made with you will be probably the beginning of a completely new way to shape my life. When I came out from prison, I was shaken and wordless. For the first time in my life I was allowed to talk about love in a place that by us, who live in the so called "free world" is termed as place where the worst people of the society, the so-called criminals are, who must pay for their crimes, because they are the dirt of society.
The thought that went through my head after our meeting reads in such a way: "There is nothing more beautiful than to be loved, loved for the sake of yourself, or rather: despite yourself". When I asked you to tell me from your prison experience, what should be most important for man, you told me: love. That's why for you it is only the love of your new friend, which gives you strength. Hence you expect full hope that the eight months you have to spend yet in prison will pass fast. Yes, Frank, tell me what love is, if one lives there in the jail for two years, and is surrounded by thick walls only. What does love mean, if one is treated by the authorities only as a number. What does love mean, if one is allowed only once a month a visitor. What does love mean, if one cannot experience compassion and forgiveness. The fact that you talk in such a place still of love, and believe in it, is for me a real miracle.
I came to you not as a public prosecutor who comes to investigate what you had done, in order to get into prison. I came to you not as somebody who was there to remind you of the things that happened, and due to which you are in jail. I came to you as a seeker, one who is just looking for God on the streets of Nuremberg. In the past days someone answered to my question, "where can I find God?" I should look for him in myself. I looked for God in my life history and have found his trails. It was beautiful for me to notice these traces of God in my life in a new way. But then I thought that looking for God in my life was not something new. I longed for a new and different way of meeting with him. That was my daily prayer. I think that he gave me the answer. From the experience of our meeting I know that he is to be found particularly there where people are treated as dirt, as number.
Yes, Franck, what I experienced with you is madness. Our encounter was a shock for you and also for me. At the beginning you could not understand to get such a visit from an unknown black man. You could not believe it, and you noticed that I too got not the words to explain to you how it came that I visited you. You looked at me totally surprised and asked how I got your name, and why I wanted to visit you. And I asked you, of whom you had thought when the authorities announced to you that you had a visitor. You answered me that you thought that it could be your friend, who has birthday today, or that it could be your former wife with your daughter. In front of you stood however an unknown black man. I told you then about me that I was a priest, and that it are exactly four years today, since I became priests. I told you about me and about the experience that I just make in Nuremberg. You often said only, "that is madness; it is incredible."
Yes, you were right, that is really madness. I think that I became madder, when I wrote five years ago a formula for my life. I think that I did not anticipate at all at that time, which words I wrote down there. But I know that I tried to express with these words my deepest longings. These longings are still to be felt strongly in my heart. I could not give you a cigarette, because I had only three One Euro coins with me, and not four, to buy cigarettes in prison. Sorry! Now I would like to give you these my words. I know that they cannot change anything of the things you have to endure in prison. They are only my deepest longings - with them you can think of me.
God, you are there, here and now!
You are there in everything that lives;
nevertheless I did look for you,
and I am still looking for you.
God, I am looking for hands that hold and encourage me,
calm me down and protect me.
I am groping for hands that accompany and lead me,
heal and save me.
I need hands that are strong and carry me,
seize me and will no longer let me go.
I want hands that mean well with me,
that are laid tenderly around me.
I am longing for hands to which I can entrust myself completely,
which are faithful and love me.
God, I am looking for large hands
into which I can put my small hands and my heart.
God, I am looking for hands in which I am completely saved.
God, your hands invite me: Come!
God, your hands let feel me: Do not be afraid!
God, your hands give me the certainty: I love you!
God, in your hands I am saved and kept for ever.
And if I fall nevertheless into the abyss, I know already:
At the bottom of this abyss your hands are waiting for me.
Your good-natured, all saving hands.
God, into your hands I lay everything that I was yesterday
everything that I am today, and everything that I will be tomorrow.
Into your hands I put my blood-relations in the Congo,
my world-wide family of the Comboni Missionaries.
Into your hands I put all who on my life way became to me
mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.
Into your hands I put all loved men who deceased,
especially the victims of the wars in my homeland and everywhere in the world.
God, I know that your hands will not release me any longer. Amen.
With these words I wish you, dear Frank, the best for your future. From today on you can trust in the fact that there is someone who will always think of you.
Your friend Joseph Mumbere
Nuremberg, August 2005
Retreat on the Street - Madness!!!!!!
Nuremberg, August 2005
Yes, I am sitting here and have no idea where to begin. Like by the Emmaus disciples my heart is burning. I can scarcely bear it. Hence I am also urged to write, although writing is not my special gift.
If I consider it rightly, this retreat began already in the year 2000. There I heard for the first time of it by Juan. I was very curious and interested, however it was clear to me and I said it also to him that such a retreat was never suitable for me! One should never say 'never'. (When I told Juan in June that I had enrolled, he said only: "I knew always that you would take part." Apparently other people know me better than I myself do!?)
So it went on! First I was curious about the tale of Alexander who had taken part two years ago; equally Gabriela had made me very curious. She had extra visited me at home to "recruit" me. 'We will see', was my answer. So God does want, and God wanted it! Suddenly the date was right, even sufficient vacation was at my disposal, so I was then ready to make an appointment! But I did it of course not before I reinsured myself again by Andrea whether it was really something for me. On my request her answer came promptly. It made the decision easy for me:
You may do everything; there is no 'must' to do anything (well, in the group discussion one should possibly take part.)
What also impressed me: everything may stand there so as it is. The fact that nothing is evaluated, nothing is too impious, but is simply there.
Hence I can only recommend to you the retreat on the street. From the little I got to see from you, and how I experienced you, I can well imagine that it would be something for you.
From that moment everything was O.K. for me. Well, I had fear of my own courage, but I knew, I will go to Nuremberg with fear and absolute uncertainty, but with the readiness to engage fully and completely in what God will give me in these days. And God has given to me so madly much that I can hardly bear it - and to the others too - for us there was in these days only one word, and that was: Madness, madness, madness and again madness!
There had to be told so many things, but I think then a small book would come out. Hence I will try to confine myself to the most substantial things.
At one of the first evenings, when we had shared our experiences, Andrea, the youngest in the group, wished me "liberation" on my way, and she gave me also my name of God: "God who wants to be close to me." - A name that arose from my longings. I have changed it sometime in "God, who is close to me, gives me hope."
I could do little with "liberation", but nevertheless this word filled my mind.
On Tuesday, after a confession talk with Christian, he said I should set out, if possible, without money. Without knowing where I should go, I packed my rucksack. First I filled water into bottles, then I thought, so now you will take along also a dry bread, in case you get hungry. Suddenly everything was clear for me, so completely simple: water and bread meant prison for me.
Since I was and am completely without orientation, I asked Juan for assistance. Look, I had damned luck; the prison was direct before the entry door. He explained everything to me, took me into his arm, and said, "Brigitte, go your way." Then I set out without knowing what I should do there at all. But it became soon clear to me, when I saw these walls, these limitations. The only thing that I will do is: I will run around this prison, always along the wall, round and round, to feel a little how the people there inside are, who are allowed to be only in this limited area. Yes, then I started, and went always in a circle, past monitoring cameras, workers ... - an eternity. On one of these rounds I went past an exit in the direction Pegnitz. The gates opened and a police car drove out. First I wanted to look away, but then I took nevertheless my stand and stared fully at this car.
There sat a man on the back seat looking at me - directly at my face -, and smiling. No offensive smile, no sneer, but a completely friendly smile. I smiled back. Then it was clear to me: here I will for the first time take off my shoes, here is holy ground. With this certainty I continued my rounds, and then at the end - when I was unable to go any longer - I took off my shoes there. I took my stand fully in the visual angle of the monitoring camera, said an Our Father, and then I took off completely slowly my shoes and socks. Subsequently, under longer pursuit by the camera, I went back completely carefully, barefoot into the house. Madness!
On the next day I was drawn again to the prison. I sat down and stared constantly at bared window. There I could recognize someone. I got the idea: there is a human being there above, not a prisoner or a criminal, no, a human being. There I would have to take off my shoes again, the shoes of inequality. Yes, we are all men, whatever life history we carry in us, it makes no difference.
When I told then in the evening in the exchange round about it, and mentioned by the way that I, since the arrival in Nuremberg, had been unable to sleep a single night because of my pain - on this morning even my wrists hurt me - Christian pointed out to me carefully the fact that this pain might be caused not by the bad bed, but perhaps by all the things that were on my mind. I did not believe his explanation! But in that night it fell like scales from my eyes: this urge to visit the prison had above all to do something with me: With my inner prisons, with my chains. Yes, now I understood how imprisoned I was personally - my concerns, my fears. Madness! Starting from this night my pain was clean gone, gone away, away, simply so. Madness!
Now I had the certainty in me that I had no longer to go far away, because I had myself always with me. So I went only once to the prison, in order to say good-bye there.
My place was then by the Pegnitz river, particularly by the water wheel. There too I took off my shoes also several times as thanks for God's creation, and for the dear people who directed me in these days. I was not free yet, but also not unhappy.
My "liberation" came then completely unexpected, in a completely simple way, by Andrea who had wished me at the beginning "liberation". Christian had drawn my attention already in the first days to the fact that there was a connection between us, yes, there were similarities. I could not understand him!
On Friday after breakfast Andrea and I remained still some time sitting. She told about herself, and at once I was able to talk with absolute ease and normality about the things that were deeply locked in my heart, and that in the last years had sometimes robbed me of the air for breathing, yes, even of my joy of life. It was so simple! Madness! The parallels between Andrea and me are actually there. Christian had hit again the nail on the head! Madness!
Yes, all these things became only wholly clear to me by the following Morning Prayer. There I had got it fully. I was only trembling and crying, crying and crying. I could not look at anybody; I could only give my hand to Christian. I do not know how long I was sitting so, but who cares. I will probably never forget in my life the picture which I saw when I opened my eyes. There sat Andrea, who had laid her arm around me, and some entirely dear people of this retreat, and held firmly each others hands. This solidarity was unbelievable. Madness!
After that day I was brutally well, and God continues in making presents to me, and in leading me. It can hardly be understood and borne. God has encompassed me with answers to unresolved questions, yes, with absolute proximity and love, also by the embraces and loving words of the others, as well as with the gift of the laughter, particularly with Laura. Madness!
He has also managed it yet that I, despite of the great difficulties I had with myself, at least internally took off my shoes before myself. Madness!
I want to end with the words of Psalm 139, with which I woke up on the last day:
You enclose me from all sides and put your hand on me.
Too marvellously this knowledge, it is too high, I cannot understand it.
Margit - At Long Last Living
I had never thought that Berlin could some day become so important for my life. Since twenty seven years I am away from Germany, and have visited it only now and then during my vacation, and then always my homeland Franconia.
It happened abroad, in Italy - to say it exactly, where I am still living, when I realized how much the cruelties of the Second World War have marked us Germans. I had not experienced the war, since I was only born nine years after its end, but I belonged to the "people who did much mischief". One did not reproach me with that, on the contrary, one tried not to talk in my presence about the wrong done by Germans to other peoples, and as I found out how one wanted to "protected" me, it met me in the heart of my heart. Since I was and am up to this day in our religious order the only German sister, I had never the opportunity to grapple with "our" history. Slowly but surely I began to behave "neutrally". I was rather ashamed of being a German, particularly of the fact that I had once been proud to be a German.
Is it a coincidence that I made the Street Retreat just in Berlin? With an Italian fellow sister, who for a long time encouraged me kindly not only to admit to be a German, but to enrich by it the community life? Just at a time when there were no group dates, so that we got the privilege to become acquainted with the community in the Naunyn Street and to love it? The experience on the streets of Berlin confirmed my view that there are no coincidences in the faith, or, as St Paul says, 'Everything will be good for those who love God' (or, as I say it gladly, 'who let themselves be loved by God'!). Thus I sit here at my computer, and I smile when I look at the small children's toys on my desk, which Christian, Petra and Sabine - our three Spiritual Directors gave me at the end of the Retreat as symbol of my God experience.
It was the Saturday breakfast in the Naunyn Street with which our Retreat began "coincidentally". It held a truth before my eyes, which hit me. The "coincidental" talk with a regular visitor, who asked me why I wanted to do the Retreat and after what I would look then, became for me the burning thorn shrub in which God revealed me his name. The thing I was looking for was life; so I answered, 'I want to live'; I was hungry and thirsty for life - life in abundance. And she looked at me and said: "One can see it on your face: you have much life in you, which never had been realized." That hit me. And in the evening, when we - with the help of our Spiritual Directors - tried to find our personal name of God, it returned as unexpected and incomprehensible gift to me. There was no doubt: God had revealed himself to me as the one who calls me to live that life which I had not lived till now. He waited for a long time for it and is pleased when I give room in me to the passion for life.
In the following days the streets of Berlin became for me holy ground. The memorial places of terror opened my eyes for the power of resistance, and for the gift of reconciliation, which can become the source of new life for those who grapple with their history, who entrust themselves to the truth, and experience its liberating power. Just while writing this I become aware that this applies not only to the history of my people but also to my personal life story. "It is important that you share your experience with others", Christian recommended time and again to us warmly. And although I have meanwhile done it often already, I see that the gift of the encounter with the God of Life is inexhaustible.
In our exchange rounds in the evening often quite unplanned and inconspicuous events and discoveries proved to be encounters with God. And it did not take a long time until I found an answer to the question: "Which shoes am I to take off, in order to set foot on this holy ground; what prevents me to meet God really?" I noticed how much I was accustomed always to examine all my thoughts and actions, whether they really pleased "God and man". Hence I had been no longer aware of the fact that the religion had become a straitjacket, and that the spontaneity in me crying for life was slowly suffocated. I was in danger to banish from my life the God of Life - in the name of religion. After a not easy fight with my scruples the scales fell from my eyes. Could it really be that God waited for me on the children's playground? I could not believe it. I did not dare to believe it. But it was true. My playful, merry child awaked in the sight of the children's playground that we daily passed in the Naunyn Street.
What a strange interaction: Walking on the streets of Berlin brought me at the same time in contact with the memorial places of the resistance and the memorial places of my childhood: both were places which I had never really visited. And slowly but truly I felt that just there lay the key to life : to admit the child in me, to let it jump and sing, and to admit the faith in the good within man, and in the power of reconciliation, the faith in the loving, wooing, life-giving and merciful God.
What does this mean in my life actually? I feel that God is smiling while I ask this question. God seems to be pleased that I ask, and I trust that I, as Rilke promised to the young poet, perhaps without even noticing it, will grow into the answer. The small children's toy reminds me of it.
20. May 2006
Street Retreat in July 2006 in Berlin
On the first day of my retreat I was occupied only with myself. It was a wretched morning of a pitiless internal dialogue: You have done this badly, and this is wrong with you - you have to change that by all means ... Driven by those demons I was also somewhat indignant at God: "Come on, God - is here any other reason that I take part in Spiritual Exercises? You could speak now with me after all." While I was grumbling in such a way with me and with God a man with a box of beer in his hand cleared his throat on the bank beside me. I considered whether that was a first sign of God, but I did not know quite right how I should address the man. I was also uncertain whether this harrumphing did mean me. "Indeed, you have to speak more clearly with me, God, so that I can hear it, otherwise you may leave it ..."
I went to the area of the underground Kottbusser Damm. This glaring, unprotected and pitiless world seemed to me just the right place for my condition. There I sat in the scanty shade of a small tree. A small and obviously confused woman ran past me. She was dressed much too warmly for the heat, had on two different heavy shoes, and had put a few cloths on her head. She grumbled loudly and incomprehensibly for herself. It came to my mind: She is like me - furious, impulsive and fast. The woman ran three times past me, and then she was out of view. While I was looking after her I longed to see her again, and at the same time I foresaw that she would not come back. The history of Moses at the crevice came into my mind. Moses wanted to see God, and God put him into a crevice, held his hand over it, and passed him - then Moses could see God's back. Like Moses I saw the woman's back. There I understood that God had just passed me. During those short five minutes in which I had observed this woman, God had showed himself completely humanly: furious, impulsive and fast. It seemed to me so tenderly that God spoke to me in my language: briefly, directly, and clearly. Is that not lovingly? God appears to me from a side which I particularly do not like at me: furious, impatient and impulsive! In this instant at the crevice I understood what it means: 'God loves you'.
In the course of the retreat God spoke with me by very different people. There were above all the people who are sitting all day long at the Oranien Place, drinking their beer. They were my preachers, pastors, and way companions. God met me also in the women who were drug streetwalkers - in an inimitably affectionate and direct way.
I want to tell an experience still in more detail.
On the last day of the retreat, a Saturday, a colleague reminded us already in the morning during the prayer: "Today is Sabbath; see to it that you hold the Sabbath in your way." I did not listen to him. I did also not pay attention to the fact that my heart did not call me just anywhere, and set simply out. I ignored the fact that I had no money for a ticket, and stole a ride. At the place where people are walking the street for drugs I sat down on a small step, and knew actually not the aim of my being here. Then a bull-like boxer appeared before me with a just as bull-like master, in order to drive me away from the step. But I did not understand yet, and sat down simply in a distance of ten meters. Thus I went still two hours without sense and understanding through the city and simply ignored all signs that sent me home. Only when I was already tired I understood suddenly: You are told to hold Sabbath today - it is about that! Today I must smile about how slow I was in the uptake then. And I am pleased from my whole heart that God did not stop to give me signs patiently - even as he had to say ten times the same to me: Make a break! It is good to know that God does not give up.
In the afternoon of this Saturday I sat then finally on my bank at the Oranien Place and dozed. At this place God had prepared still another beautiful gift for me at the conclusion of the retreat. Two banks further a quite drunken man began to recite a poem:
"God says: ..."
Of course, with such an introduction I stopped to listen. Hence I unfortunately forgot the first lines of the poem. Then it said:
"Do you believe seriously we would not see you?!
Do you believe seriously we would leave you?!
Do you believe seriously we were not there for you?!
You are marvellous!
In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
And now think exactly, what is to be done."
Street Retreat 2011
Since August 2010, I have been part of a group that meets regularly over the course of two years to get qualified in Spiritual Direction, based on the Ignatian exercises. The course is organized by four dioceses of Central / Northern Germany.
When we met in November, we were told that Saturday afternoon would be a surprise - for which we'd need cars... We only knew that the topic was "Praying with the signs of the time".
So, when it was Saturday, we were told we'd be sent off to pray - but this time not into a quiet corner or the beautiful meditation room - but right into the center of the city of Hildesheim... To see where we can discover God there - or let ourselves be found by God.. To discover places of meeting God in the city.
This was our first street retreat. It lasted for only two hours - and yet, it made such a big difference for all of us... What a gift it was to listen to each other's experiences in the evening! I wrote down my own experience the next day:
...The afternoon held new experiences in store for me: We were to practice "Spiritual exercises in the city center" or "Praying in the city"... We were sent to the city center, without money or credit card or cell phone... My (self-chosen) "mantra" was "To see Christ in every person". Wow. I had never spent two hours in a city center "just because", with no errands to run, no hurry, no shopping... I'd never been that attentive to people on the street before! I walked slowly, I watched people, I prayed for them... The Romanians, owners of a small ride to be built up for the Christmas fair... Sitting on the street, looking dirty... We found no common language... The girl selling apples, not hesitating to give me one for free when I told her I had no money with me... Little baby Ahmed, exactly one month old, sleeping peacefully... Freddy, who, with his mental "handicap" was the friendliest, happiest, most open of all of them! The woman who comes twice a year from far away to take care of a grave... Marcus, African-American from Mississippi, who couldn't feel at home any longer in the narrowness of most people's mentality "back home"... And who is now selling shoes in this cold town in Germany... But who radiates a good mood!
Once I walked past three rather "dark-looking" men who were drinking alcohol, and I thought, no I do not have to approach them. Just at that time one of the men said loudly: "And you shouldn't always judge people from the first impression you have of them!" He did not mean me, he had not even noticed me, I believe, but clearly his words were for me, even without his knowing...
Then I entered a pizza place and asked for a glass of water. The Italian lady who was washing glasses gladly gave me one. For 30 years she's been living in Germany... I even dared practicing my very limited Italian with her!
And I was surprised to notice so many people who had a hard time walking. Or whose eyes expressed pain. Seeing Christ in them... I was filled with awe and understanding and gratefulness that Christ had not come like a rich king, so I could see Him in them...
And in children's eyes! These big eyes, still totally open to the world...
And so many people smiled.